Five Wellington councillors breached code of conduct, investigation finds

6:36 pm on 8 December 2023
Wellington's Municipal Office Building (the tall cream coloured building in the middle) sits next to the Town Hall (left) in Te Ngākau Civic Square.

Wellington's Municipal Office Building (the tall cream coloured building in the middle) sits next to the Town Hall (left) in Te Ngākau Civic Square. Photo: Supplied/ Wellington City Council

An investigation into five Wellington City councillors has found they breached their code of conduct policy.

The probe was launched in relation to the councillors' actions following a publicly excluded briefing regarding the future of Courtenay Place's Reading Cinemas earlier this year.

It found councillors Diane Calvert, Nicola Young, Iona Pannett, Ray Chung and Tony Randle were in breach of the code - with some making more than one breach.

The review's findings were councillors Calvert, Young, Chung and Pannett breached the code by failing to observe confidentiality when they responded to media inquiries.

Randle and Young breached the code by failing to show respect to other councillors when they made comments casting aspersions on the actions and motivations of fellow councillors who could not speak out in reply.

Chung, Calvert and Young breached the code by criticising council staff in public statements.

The report made a number of recommendations that included refresher training be provided to all councillors on sections 6 and 7 of the Local Government Information and Meetings Act.

That would include practical guidance on where it is appropriate to withhold information from the public, in what circumstances it might be in the public interest to do so and how to maintain confidentiality in circumstances where information is being withheld.

It also recommended a workshop where all councillors convened under the stewardship of an independent trained facilitator, in which the complaint can be discussed and all grievances about it aired.

It was recommended this be held with the public excluded.

Whanau thanked Linda Clark for conducting the review and said she would accept the recommendations.

Whanau has asked chief executive Barbara Mckerrow to provide advice on progressing the recommendations as well as bringing forward an update to their Code of Conduct policy in our work programme.

"As mayor, I want to have a collaborative working environment where we robustly debate ideas, policy detail, and the decisions we make. That is critical for a healthy democracy and what our city deserves."

Whanau said the decision to appoint a reviewer to investigate the Code of Conduct complaint reflected the seriousness of the issues raised.

"I want us all to be delivering for the city in a way that always has good conduct at the heart of how we work, and I really do hope we can come together to remedy it."

She said that now the investigation had concluded she would review the council committee chairperson positions as she committed to a year into the role and to reflect the resignation of former Councillor Tamatha Paul.

"I did not want to review the chair positions whilst the investigation was underway, as I felt that was unfair for those being investigated and the inquiry needed to run its course."

Whanau acknowledged that the release of the reports comes at a time when she recently admitted to having a problem with alcohol.

"Whilst a very different issue, it is clear is we must all lift our game and work towards being better stewards of the city and this is something I am deeply committed to.

"I know that our residents don't want to see us distracted by internal spats or personal issues. I hope reviewing the Code of Conduct will help draw a line in the sand so we can focus on the issues that matter."

Councillors respond

Pannett said it had been an unfair and disappointing process.

"I did not leak any information. The finding is incorrect. The matter was in the public realm. The mayor had spoken about it, with the agreement and support of the chief executive, so my conscience is clear.

"I was told by the mayor and the deputy mayor i had done nothing wrong and they still proceeded with the complaint even though I asked on multiple occasions for it to be withdrawn.

"I sort of got rolled up in the process with others as they tried to manage behaviour of some of our colleagues."

In a joint statement, Calvert, Young, Randle and Chung rejected all the findings of the report.

The mayor choosing Linda Clark "despite their personal and business connections" had made the report's neutrality questionable.

"We reject all other the findings and knew from the outset that this was an orchestrated attempt by the mayor and deputy mayor to discredit and silence councillors who dared to speak up about significant concerns (albeit embarrassing to council) such as water infrastructure funding, funding priorities, engagement practices, lack of transparency, the city's financial crisis and the programme governance around Let's Get Wellington Moving.

"We were invited to participate in the review and our participation is noted within the report including emails. The mayor, and councillors John Apanowicz and Ben McNulty were referenced in the review for commenting to media, but were not investigated because the complaint by the deputy mayor 'does not identify these individuals'."

They said the report's recommendations "appear to be clutching at straws".

"After two months, tens of thousands of dollars of ratepayers' money and a weaponised code of conduct process that's just not credible and for what? Nevertheless, we are pleased the mayor is now looking to provide an environment for collaboration whilst acknowledging her own behaviour and that of others. We look forward to a more inclusive leadership approach moving forward into the new year."

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